Húnán’s two most potent exports – its fiery cuisine and the combustible thought of firebrand Mao Zedong – have scorched trails across the Middle Kingdom. Xiāngcài restaurants have eyes streaming and foreheads sweating nationwide, and effigies of Mao stand unblinking through the land, monuments to a period of ideological fervour that took China to the brink of ruin.
Communist heritage sites may characterise Chángshā and Sháoshān – revered birthplace of Mao Zedong – and the communist stamp is magnified further by Liu Shaoqi, Peng Dehuai and Hu Yaobang, prominent communist bigwigs and Húnán men. But to exclusively pore over Húnán’s revolutionary roll call would be to sell the province way short, for Húnán is blessed with some of China’s most stupendous landscapes and fecund scenery.
Spreading east, west and south from the province’s Yangzi River basin plain (and Chángshā) are rough, isolated mountain ranges. The splendid Miao hamlet of Déhāng finds itself surrounded by a fanciful panorama of lush terraced fields, waterfalls and the karst peaks that rise in further profusion at the astonishing park of Wǔlíngyuán.
Travellers hunting down classic scenes of China’s riverside village life come to rest in Fènghuáng for its unique views and crumbling sense of history. South of Fènghuáng, Hóngjiāng wraps itself around an old quarter riddled with heritage architecture. Travellers eager to commune with sacred China can make a beeline to Héng Shān, where monks pursue a life dedicated to the dào – the Way – on the slopes of one of China’s holiest Taoist peaks.
Best places to stay in Húnán
Duanwu Jié: tips for watching the dragon boat festival in Húnán, China
'Wooden boat' by magical-world. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike Location: Húnán province, China Date: fifth day of the fifth lunar month.